Sarah Rosenbloom ’93
Founder and Director, The Toa Nafasi Project
In Kiswahili, “Toa Nafasi” translates to “provide a chance,” which is exactly what Sarah Rosenbloom ’93 is doing for the children of Tanzania through her program, The Toa Nafasi Project.
The Toa Nafasi Project (Toa) was created to support children who are unable to reach their full potential, due to the inability of the current Tanzanian early education system to accommodate individual learning needs or those with learning difficulties. Due to severely limited resources, and the often complex nature of learning difficulties, such children are often seen as disobedient, or “lazy,” rather simply being a divergent learner. The project’s website states,
“We envision a world in which every Tanzanian child is provided the chance to receive quality primary education that recognizes and fosters individual talent and celebrates uniqueness”—which certainly must sound familiar to anyone with knowledge of Georgetown Day School’s mission.In 2007, when Sarah was living in New York City and working as a publicist in the publishing industry, she had a feeling that something was missing; she made a bargain with herself: if the job she was interviewing for didn’t come through, she would go to Africa. Sarah recalled having her eye caught during the interview by two old maps framed on the wall of the office: Kenya and Tanzania. “I remember feeling this was a sign,” she said. “That as I schmoozed and peddled my first-world wares in this magnificent office overlooking the Avenue of the Americas, there was a little omen of my future right in front of me.”
Her original intent was to travel for six months and experience another side of life, but travelling to Africa with a program called Visions in Action as a volunteer nursery school teacher turned out to be deeply and personally transformational. She learned Swahili, made local friends, and began a new and different life in Africa.
It was during her work with the local school that the need for Toa became glaringly evident. “When a five-year-old child answered a question wrong, this teacher would say ‘mwongo’ which means ‘liar.’ There were some fairly clear-cut cases of dyslexia and dyscalculia as well, which received the same kinds of name calling. I could see the need then for teacher training, community awareness, and remedial support for the kids.”
Upon returning to the U.S. in 2008, Sarah set about finding a way she could make Tanzania her permanent home; she ultimately returned by working for Visions in Action until 2011, as the manager of the same volunteer program in which she had participated. In 2012, she incorporated Toa Nafasi.
Toa works with struggling students, helping them complete the standard Tanzanian curriculum in a modified context. Toa has learned how to adjust the syllabus and/or teaching methodology for students with special needs, using more time spent on each lesson, one-on-one time with the tutor, or hands-on learning.
Toa does not just address academic needs: “Since there are many reasons why a student might underperform in the classroom, Toa Nafasi has a referral system of health professionals to treat pupils who are struggling due to medical or psychosocial issues,” Sarah said.
“Our program can be introduced into any public primary school in the country, and has expanded from one location in Moshi (the capital city of the Kilimanjaro region) to three neighboring schools,” Sarah explained. “Ultimately, the goal is for our services to be available in all public primary schools, so people will not have to travel long distances or pay extra money.”
Students are not the only beneficiaries of the project: Toa Nafasi teachers are young women from the local village, who have struggled to find gainful employment, but are deeply committed to working with the children. They learn effective teaching methodologies through Toa and then gain further experience in the classroom. It is these opportunities for meaningful, fulfilling employment that make such an impact on the local community. Toa now employs a project leader and 12 teaching staff, all Tanzanian women.
The Toa Nafasi project celebrated its fifth anniversary this past February, marking the milestone with a small gathering which included Anna Mghwira, the Regional Commissioner of Kilimanjaro, and Genesis Kiwelu, a Toa board member and Councilman for Ng'ambo, one of the wards in which they work. They were joined by board members, district and regional government authorities, and most importantly, the teachers. Reflecting upon the first five years, Sarah said “Toa's success relies on teamwork, and the partnership we have built with the Tanzanian government.”
Sarah acknowledges that life has changed irrevocably for her in the past decade, but that the difficulties of growth and change have most certainly been worth it. “It has not always been the easiest road, but it has been rewarding in a way that, prior to going to Tanzania, I had not known life and work could be,” she notes. “Being dealt a lucky hand in life—great family, great education, financially sound, emotionally supported—it was my hope to give some of the kids I met a taste of my lucky hand.” Her passion for learning, and sharing that love of learning with others, stems from her GDS education. “I believe very strongly in education and the powers of education that it can get you to the next step. I’m so lucky to have had the education that I had at Georgetown Day.’’